Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has had fewer than 600 Coronavirus cases according to a report released by Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) today.
What has become increasingly clear is that the low number is not because the country has been particularly effective with preventing the spread of the disease—it’s more likely because only a few have access to testing.
South Africa currently has the capacity to conduct 5,000 tests for COVID-19 daily. South African government is ramping up to push that up, and available report by NCDC shows Nigeria had done only 7,153 lab tests, which do not resolves as the number of people tested as of April 18, 2020. That’s compared with South Africa which has conducted over 50,000 tests.
During a media briefing in Johannesburg, South Africa’s Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, announced that the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) has procured 60 mobile sampling and testing units which will be deployed nationwide to all priority districts and metros. This brings the total number of mobile testing units to 67.
Nigeria’s Coronavirus Strategy
The NCDC adopted a strategy of limiting tests to only people already showing symptoms of the disease or have come in contact with confirmed cases. It’s similar to approaches adopted in the United States and the United Kingdom which has been relatively ineffective.
Nigeria’s Covid-19 Infrastructure
Nigeria lacks the manpower or capacity to do testing on a very large scale. Indeed, very few countries do: despite ramping up testing in recent days, the UK remains short of its 10,000 tests per day target, and their strategy which Nigeria mirrored relatively has not been effective.
The danger however is that, unlike the UK, Nigeria’s public health infrastructure is starkly short on critical medical equipment and facilities to deal with a full-blown outbreak: there are reportedly fewer than 500 ventilators across the entire country.
Not to mention that only the wealthy and influential have easy access to testing in a country of about 200 million. Beyond low testing figures, there are also questions over Nigeria’s handling of the outbreak since confirming its index case at the end of February.
Nigeria’s Covid-19 Handling
Despite evidence that early confirmed cases comprised mainly of foreign travelers and Nigerians returning from high-risk countries, Several other African countries had adopted stiffer measures on international flights a week earlier to mitigate the risk of importing the virus.
While quarantine is mandatory in countries like Kenya, Ghana, and Uganda for nationals, Nigeria’s government largely relies on public service announcements to find possible contacts as the nation does not have an adequate database.
South Africa currently has the capacity to conduct 5,000 tests for COVID-19 daily. However, with the addition of mobile testing units, combined with 180 testing sites and 320 testing units across the country, this number will now increase six-fold.
By catching small community outbreaks and isolating cases, the South African response is slowing down the spread and hope to stop small flare-ups from turning into large wildfires of infection.
Testing is our window into the pandemic and how it is spreading. Without testing, we have no way of understanding the pandemic. It is one of our most important tools in the fight to slow and reduce the spread and impact of the virus.
Tests allow us to identify infected individuals, guiding the medical treatment that they receive. It enables the isolation of those infected and the tracing and quarantining of their contacts. And it can help allocate medical resources and staff more efficiently.